"So what's happening here?" California Kid asked.
"How should I know?" Master Blaster moaned. "Stupid **!@&^ opera."
"Shh!" Linguist Lass hissed without turning her eyes from the stage.
"I can't understand the words," Elvis Man complained. "'Tain't proper music 'less you can understand the words."
"Shhh!" Linguist Lass repeated. She desperately hoped the men's conversation wasn't disrupting the people in the next box.
"What about 'Burning Love'?" Sarcastic Lad asked. "Or 'Don't Be Cruel'? 'Jailhouse Rock'? 'Viva Las Vegas'?"
"Shut up," Elvis Man warned.
"I can understand the lyrics to most of those songs," California Kid offered.
Linguist Lass buried her face in her hands and began to seriously regret making the attempt to broaden the heroes' cultural horizons. It seemed only Cannon Fodder wasn't talking through the performance. Even that had more to do with his attempts to impress his new girlfriend, who was second oboe in the orchestra.
The soprano suddenly stopped partway through her aria, and the heroes' attention returned to the stage. Four men with machine guns had stumbled from the wings, and their weapons were aimed toward the audience.
"Awright, nobody move!" one of the men yelled. "I mean you guys in the boxes, too! Now let's all sit down and give a great big hand for the Vaudevillain! C'mon, I said clap!"
With reluctance, the opera patrons generated some weak applause. At this cue a small, elderly man in a cheap suit strolled onto the stage. "Thank you, thank you! It's great to be back in Net.ropolis! I tell ya, it's been a long time since I was here. In fact, it's been so long, that the last time I was here, the town was called Telegraphopolis!"
"That's not very funny," Linguist Lass thought. To her surprise, though, everyone else was laughing, hard. To her even bigger surprise, so was she. The man on stage told two more jokes, neither much funnier than the first, and the heroine's sides began to hurt from the laughter. Beside her, Cannon Fodder was thrashing about in hysterics. Then, in one massive spasm, he fell forward, right out of the box.
Ultimate Ninja blew out the candles and strode angrily from his shrine. When he reached the computer room where Multi-Tasking Man liked to spend his time, he saw Cannon Fodder sitting on a console trying to look comfortable in his tuxedo. "Okay, what's so important that you dragged me down here and pulled Cannon Fodder away from the opera?"
"Actually, I'm the one with the problem," Cannon Fodder admitted. He quickly recounted what had happened.
Multi-Tasking Man interrupted his game of "Broom!" and his Quantum Leap fanfic writing just long enough to take another bite of the ribs he'd ordered from You Go Grill and to open another window on his computer.
"I found a file on this Vaudevillain. His name is Shecky Rosenblatt. Back in the 20's and 30's, he was one of the most successful comedians on the circuit. It seems that his act was only fair, but people couldn't help laughing, as you've experienced. Anyway, while his colleagues made the transition to film or radio or, later, TV, Shecky bombed. Seems his appeal couldn't be transmitted. His career tanked, and he briefly turned to crime. Until recently, he'd been in hiding in Florida."
"So, is his power based on the sound of his voice?" Ultimate Ninja asked.
"Dunno, but the file says that the way to stop him is to find someone with absolutely no sense of humor."
The ninja thought for a moment. "Where's Self-Righteous Preacher?"
"At a convention in Alt.lanta."
"Pompous Lad's lost in space. How about Old Comics Man?"
"No, I've seen him laugh. What about you?" Cannon Fodder asked.
Ultimate Ninja glared at the young hero. "I have a sense of humor!" The others just looked at each other and grinned. "I do! And I'll cut the liver out of anyone who says otherwise!"
"What?" Ultimate Ninja yelled.
"Great! I can't hear a word you're saying. Let's go!"
The two pushed open the doors to the hall and saw a pair of the Vaudevillain's henchmen clumsily taking the valuables from incapacitated patrons.
"No tomatoes!" the comedian said. Cannon Fodder immediately fell over, and the ninja shook his head and chuckled. Then he guffawed. Then he drew his sword.
"There's a matching one in back," the other hero added. "In any case, shortly after you two left, I managed to come up with another idea."
"Oh, rah bah bah," a voice wheezed from offstage.
Suddenly the Vaudevillain's stride was thrown. He looked over as a group of elderly men and women walked onto the stage. "Jasper? Abraham? What're all you guys doing here?"
"Why are you torturing these poor people with your jokes?" one of the newcomers asked.
"Hey, this audience appreciates my humor!"
"Rah bah bah," the first old man repeated. "We appreciated your humor, the first thousand times."
While the comedian was distracted, the audience began to recover. The heroes in the box surprised the man who was trying to find their pockets, then helped Ultimate Ninja capture his accomplices before rushing onto the stage.
"The curtain's dropped on your act, Vaudevillain," the ninja said.
The elderly man dropped his head. "I'm sorry."
"Why, dude?" California Kid asked. "You were funny!"
"Yeah, man! You rocked!" Master Blaster added. Elvis Man nodded in agreement.
Ultimate Ninja, Linguist Lass, and Sarcastic Lad looked at their three comrades in confusion. "You actually liked that?" the heroine gasped.
"They went downstairs with the Vaudevillain," Linguist Lass answered. "Well, Sarcastic Lad complained of a headache and went to bed. And Amilee wanted me to say 'Hi.'"
"How did you know to send those other elderly people?" Ultimate Ninja asked Multi-Tasking Man.
"Well, the Vaudevillain's like ninety, so I figured he may be in a home by now. I checked on Florida nursing homes which had residents on field trips to Net.ropolis this week and voila."
"How did you know they wouldn't be affected?" Cannon Fodder asked. "And why weren't they?"
"Immunity built up by years of exposure. And I simply asked them. Alternatively, there was always the method his henchmen used."
"Heavy doses of Doanwanalaffanine," Ultimate Ninja supplied.
"Precisely. I've sent an email over to Doctor Stomper and Organic Lass to get us some."
"Good. We'll probably need it if we're going to keep that dangerous criminal in custody," the ninja said.
"Still," Cannon Fodder commented, "all in all, it seems a bit sad for someone that old to be locked up like that. He must be miserable."
Linguist Lass smiled. "Oh, I don't know...."
The Vaudevillain chortled. "Man, you guys are great! I tell ya, did you hear the one about..."
KM Wilcox's Email Address:
KM's LNH Writing: http://ccwf.cc.utexas.edu/~kmwilcox/LNH
LNH Homepage: http://www.eyrie.org/lnh/
LNH FTP Archives: ftp://ftp.eyrie.org/pub/racc/lnh/
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